Book reviews

No Electricity, No Problem?… And Plein Air Painting in 1930s Scotland

I may have found the perfect solution to safely heating water in a ger without a fire or electricity. Whoever designed this really backed up and asked themselves what problem they were trying to solve. And what they came up with was this:

Esbit Pocket Stove

Esbit Pocket Stove

This is obviously perfect for backpackers or anyone who might find themselves in a survival situation. The two upright ends fold down flat, so the dimensions are 3″x4″x 3/4″. It weighs 3.25 oz and is made in Germany, can you believe it. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it uses a solid fuel that is non-explosive. It burns about 13 minutes and is supposed to boil a pint of water in about 8 with no smoke. No kerosene bottles or other stuff that the airlines don’t like or allow.

I’ve thought of another use for it, too. Last winter around eight children died in Mongolia when they got caught out in an unexpected storm while herding animals and couldn’t get back home. What if they had had something like this to stay warm long enough for rescuers to find them? And the adults who also died in the cold too, of course. I’m going to see what I can find out about the issue when I’m there and see what might be done.

Plein Air Information Discovery!

I’ve been down with a cold since a week ago Saturday and it’s been a tenacious one. I’m almost over it, but still needing to take it easy. I’ve been doing a lot of resting and reading and decided to dive into the Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. I’m not a mystery fan, but I love these because they are so delightfully and excruciatingly English. I just started “Five Red Herrings”, which takes place in the western borderlands of Scotland. The area is heavily populated with artists, one of whom doesn’t play well with others and is deceased by page 17. Wimsey visits the site where the body was found. It appears that the artist was painting on location, took one step too far back from the work in progress and fell off a cliff, the kind of thing that can be an occupational hazard for those working in the great outdoors. In any case, Wimsy thoroughly paws through all the artist’s things, possibly providing clues but absolutely recording what a plein air painter in Scotland circa 1930 would be hauling around.

He gave his first attention to the picture. It was blocked in with a free and swift hand, and lacked the finishing touches, but it was even so a striking piece of work, bold in its masses and chiaroscuro, and strongly laid on with the knife.”

“Idly, Wimsey picked up the palette and painting-knife which lay on the stool. He noticed that —– used a simple palette of few colors, and this pleased him, for he liked to see economy of means allied with richness of result. (My emphasis. Wouldn’t we all?) On the ground was an aged satchel, which had evidently seen long service. Rather from habit than with any eye to deduction, he made an inventory of the contents.

In the main compartment he found a small flask of whiskey, half-full, a thick tumbler and a packet of bread and cheese, eight brushes, tied together with a dejected piece of linen which had once been a handkerchief but was now dragging out a dishonored existence as a paint-rag, a dozen loose brushes, two more painting-knives and a scraper. Cheek by jowl with these were a number of tubes of paint. Wimsey laid them out side by side on the granite, like a row of little corpses.

There was a half-pound of vermilion spectrum, new clean and almost unused, a studio-size tube of ultramarine No. 2, half-full, another of chrome yellow, nearly full and  another of the same, practically empty. Then came a half-pound tube of viridian, half-full, a studio-size cobalt three-quarters empty, and then an extremely dirty tube, with its label gone, which seemed to have survived much wear and tear without losing much of its contents. Wimsey removed the cap and diagnosed it as crimson lake. Finally, there was an almost empty studio-size tube of rose madder and a half-pound of lemon yellow, partly used and very dirty. The large compartment, however, yielded nothing further except some dried heather, a few shreds of tobacco and a quantity of crumbs, and he turned his attention to the two smaller compartments

In the first of these was, first, a small screw of grease-proof paper on which the brushes had been wiped; next, a repellent little tin, very sticky about the screw-cap, containing copal medium; and thirdly, a battered dipper, matching the one attached to the palette.

The third and last compartment of the satchel offered a more varied bag. There was a Swan vesta box, filled with charcoal, a cigarette-tin, also containing charcoal and a number of sticks of red chalk, a small sketchbook, heavily stained with oil, three or four canvas separators, on which Wimsey promptly pricked his fingers, some wine corks and a packet of Gold Flakes.”

“A wide cloak of a disagreeable check pattern lay beside the easel. He picked it up and went deliberately through the pockets. He found a pen-knife, with one blade broken, half a biscuit, another pack of cigarettes, a box of matches, a handkerchief, two trout-casts in a transparent envelope, and a piece of string.”

I find it interesting that the paint is measured in pounds. With variations for personal taste, however, I suspect that any regular plein air painter’s kit today would have a similar accumulation of odds and ends. But….Peter noticed that something was missing. And since I’m only on page 50, I haven’t the faintest idea what it is and wouldn’t say anyway.

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